Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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Pope draws in three million people to celebrate Mass on Copacabana Beach

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in front of 3 million pilgrims on Copacabana Beach

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in front of 3 million pilgrims on Copacabana Beach

As Europe turns it’s back on religion the rest of the world are looking in the other direction.

Pope Francis I completed a week of events in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Youth Day with a celebration of Mass on Rio’s famous Copacabana Beach. Three million people attended.

Rock stars and even the President of the USA could only dream of such adoring supporters at their concerts and rallies.

Pope Francis on flight back from Brazil_29_7_13

Pope Francis answering questions from journalists on papal flight back to Rome

Pope Francis I is very charismatic and reminds many Catholics of Blessed John Paul II, the former pontiff who is set to be canonised (to be made a Saint) next year. The Pope is also an excellent communicator speaking plainly and not hiding behind ecclesiastical rhetoric, which Benedict XVI as an academic was prone to do. On the way back from Brazil, Pope Francis held a press conference at the back of the papal plane for nearly an hour and a half. When asked by journalists about rumours of a “gay lobby” in the Vatican, the Pope made headlines around the world when he said: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”. The Roman Catholic leader continued: “The catechism of the Church explains this very beautifully”. He added: “We shouldn’t marginalise people for this. They must be integrated into society.”

This Papal words on homosexuality is a break from the hard-line rhetoric of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XIV, which I welcome, and is a signal from the current pontiff he knows there are gay priests but as long as they remain celibate it doesn’t bother him.

The Pope may well be the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics but he is also a sharp political operator, which you would expect from a Head of State, and, along with leading the faithful, his mission is to shake up one of the oldest institutions on Earth. His papacy should be very interesting indeed.

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Notes from a Mediterranean Tour

Deep blue: Sardinia

My wife and I recently returned from a Mediterranean tour of sorts, having visited Ibiza in the Balearics, Rome and Sardinia.

I’ve written about Ibiza before and not much has changed. We love the island but not the young British tourists who frequent it with us; there are a few older British tourists who behave perfectly well but the vast majority are from the sub-class I talked about in my post last year. The Ibiza Government is very much aware the damage the British sub-class are doing to the island’s long-term prosperity, and the offence they cause local Ibizans, and have introduced a bylaw banning people (read “the British sub-class”) from walking around with their tops off, urinating in the street and offering sexual services (yep, that was in the advisory note provided to all tourists on arrival!). The Balearics Government know perfectly well the sub-class behaviour is putting off higher-earning tourists like my wife and I from visiting Ibiza and I am sad to say they will be right for a number of years until they start to enforce the bylaw, which is blatantly ignored.

That said Ibiza is a lovely island outside of the centre of San Antoni and we frequented our favourite restaurant Es Rebost several times where the owner recognised us from a year ago.

We then flew on to Rome. Wow, what a contrast. Sometimes, I wonder how certain countries ever managed to reach the EU bar for membership. Southern Italy is more like North Africa than Continental Europe: chaos and aggression (compared to us sedate Brits) reigns. But, without a doubt, it is a buzzing life-filled city and one of the world’s greatest. I was chatting with a Roman colleague of mine before we visited Rome and – although I had visited as a child, it is never the same experience as an adult – asked how it compared to London. “Oh, no it’s not international like London, it is Italian and Roman!”. Well, I’m not too sure. The entire city is packed to the brim with tourists to the extent it feels like they outnumber the indigenous population. The phenomenon in Rome, unlike in Paris, are the vast blocks of meandering tourist groups, now wired up to the latest technology with the guide chuntering into an earphones-style microphone followed by up to 50 rampaging tourists listening into the pearls of wisdom with earphone earpieces like a group of iPod wearing teenagers.  They get in the way everywhere! You get past one herd and another turns the corner making it feel like you are constantly entering Liverpool Street Station as an inter-city train has just arrived packed with commuters.

It’s disappointing because whilst Paris feels really French all of the time, Rome does not ooze Italian as you would like. It oozes a tourist theme park with some of the greatest architecture on Earth thrown into the background. Another aspect of Rome is the aggressive street hawkers – they will try and sell you anything from plastic balls to a budgie they have trained to sit on your shoulder! All the tourists guides mention pickpockets and – yes – like in any big city always look out for thieves but all Lonely Planet and others do is create constant paranoia and the feeling you need to keep looking over your shoulder. Removing half the street hawkers would remove a lot of the aggression and anxiety – oh and ban tourists group over ten people!

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Pope Francis I touring St Peter’s Square, The Vatican, 19th June

We got to attend a Papal Audience – along with 90,000 other pilgrims – in St Peter’s Square, which was a great experience (despite the 40 degree heat!), as was the visit around the Vatican Museums. I had visited the Vatican twice before as a child and I have also been to Lourdes, the holy shrine, in France. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, wearing shorts was banned and the covering up of shoulders compulsory in respect of the holy sites we were visiting. Not so now*: a lot of people visiting the Holy See are doing so as if they are visiting Disneyland with many girls dressed as if they are going to the club, mobile phones going off and people holding full-scale conversations in the Sistine Chapel. We Christians really are a tolerant bunch. I can’t see the same being allowed at Mecca and somehow I expect enforcement of the rules in Saudi Arabia is tougher…

After Rome, we flew on to Sardinia. As I commented on Facebook at the time, the Italian way of doing things reared its head. We booked our flight tickets with Alitalia six months in advance, communication from the airline was poor but we got to the airport two hours before for a domestic flight where the stated check-in time is less than an hour. And then the Alitalia representative said: “Oh, you’re on standby only”. Despite nobody from the airline ever telling us, we were expected to telepathically know to check-in online and because we hadn’t the plane was now full because Alitalia massively overbooks. The Italians of course knew this but the foreign tourists including a nice French couple queuing with us didn’t. Once my wife had vented her anger to the check-in man, a manager suddenly found of way of by-passing the system and getting us onto the flight after all. Only in Italy.

Sardinia was exquisite. Tourists companies love to show pictures of crystal clear water and white sandy beaches and nine times out of ten the reality does not live up to the airbrushed photos. Well, with Sardinia no photography trickery is required: the sea is the deepest blue and the sand is the whitest and finest there is. Gorgeous.

Sardinia may only be a few hundred miles east of Ibiza but it feels a million miles away: Sardinia is where the Italians go on holiday. English is almost the second language in Rome but Sardinia is not the place to go and shout “Speak English! CAN I HAVE CHIPS WITH THAT!”. A lot of the locals don’t speak English at all and those that do have only a beginners grasp (so swot up on your Italian if you decide to visit). A great contrast to Ibiza where the traditional culture has had to be discarded to serve the sub-class their Stella and chips!

Sardinia is not just about beaches. The island is large (about the size of Wales) and has beautiful countryside to match the gorgeous beaches with near-Alpine forests, mountains, rolling vineyards, gorges and caves. One week did not do her justice – we’ll definitely be going back to Sardinia for a longer break here next time.

As a sidebar, the difference between EU countries was brought into stark focus whilst we were chatting to my Roman colleague on the Italian mainland. Working is not a choice but a necessity in Italy. The Italian Government will only assist you with handouts for six months if you become unemployed and then that’s it, nothing more. Compare that to the UK, where if you know how to play the system, you never have to do a day’s work in your life and can entirely rely on the taxpayer to keep you in house and home for decades! This was positively encouraged by the Labour Party under Blair and Brown and then when you couple this with their immigration policy between 1997-2010 is it no wonder not only London feels more international than British but the whole of the UK does too?

*Due to my wife being ill during our Rome trip, we ended up visiting St Peter’s Basilica, the only place where security do enforce the covering of shoulders rules, on a separate day, and as fate would have it this was the one day she forgot to bring her shawl – all was sorted out though. I can’t understand why the rule is not enforced in the sanctity of the Sistine Chapel and the place where Popes are elected though.


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Pope Francis I blesses the world

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His Holiness Pope Francis I has asked the crowds in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican to pray for him. The Pope was elected by the Cardinals on the fifth ballot in the Conclave.

Francis I prayed for his predecessor Benedict XVI and then blessed the crowd, 1.2 billion Catholics and the world.


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Black smoke seen over the Sistine Chapel

Cardinals convene for the Papal Conclave before the doors were shut to the outside world

Cardinals convene for the Papal Conclave inside the Sistine Chapel

The 115 Cardinals who have today been ensconced in the magnificent surroundings of the Sistine Chapel have undertaken the single vote allowed on Day 1 of the Papal Conclave, which, as expected, has failed to choose the next Pope.

Black smoke blew from the special chimney erected on the roof of the Sistine Chapel indicating one Cardinal present did not have two-thirds of the vote.

The Cardinals have now returned to their hotel within Vatican City, especially built by Benedict XVI, to accommodate all Cardinals under 80 who can vote in a Conclave. They will return to the Sistine Chapel in the morning.

Tomorrow and every forthcoming day of the Conclave (if more days are required), the Cardinals will vote twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon until one of their numbers has 77 votes or more. Security is very tight. The Chapel was swept for listening and visual devices before the Conclave, telephones are banned and mobile phone jamming devices are in use by Vatican security.

We will know when the next Pope is elected when white smoke is seen from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel accompanied by the pealing of the bells of St Peter’s. If the candidate accepts, he will then become the next Pope and leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.


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UPDATE: Full Statement from Pope Benedict XVI on his resignation

Pope Benedict XVIDear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

From the Vatican, 11 February 2013
BENEDICTUS PP XVI


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Pope Benedict XVI resigns

Pope Benedict XVI upon his election in 2005

Pope Benedict XVI upon his election in 2005

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has shocked the world by resigning from the papacy. This is the first time in 600 years a pope has resigned.

The pontiff and Head of State of the Holy See will step down on 28th February with the Vatican saying it expects to elect a new Pope before Easter.

The Pope is 85 years of age and it is his frailty which will see him leave his ministry. He told a meeting of cardinals at the Vatican this morning of his decision, saying in Latin:

After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.

I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiriual nature, must be carried out not only by words and deeds but no less with prayer and suffering.